A Dirty Ring Around the White House Bathtub
December 28, 2010

Rub a Dub Dub, Big Bill Taft's Bath Could Hold Four Men In a Tub

I Don't Know if Big Bill is Right because I don't think being Secretary of War counts as part of the legislative branch. Either Way, the Tub story is more fun

On This Date in History:   According to H.L. Mencken, the first bathtub was installed in the White House in 1851 by President Millard Fillmore. Mencken wrote in a New York newspaper that the first bathtub in the United States was an “elegant mahogany contraption” installed in the home of a Cincinnati businessman in 1842. He said after that point, that the practice of bathing became popular with the wealthy. He said when word reached the masses a public outcry against the “epicurean and obnoxious toy from England” was “designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the republic.” Mencken added that it was Fillmore was responsible for the public’s acceptance for the habit of regular bathing. On this day in 1917, Mencken was basking in the glow created by his article in the New York Evening Mail titled” A Neglected Anniversary.”

He was probably still chuckling the day after his work was published because it was an elaborate hoax. December 1917 was a time of great sadness around the world due to World War I. He decided that a spoof on bathtub history would be a good way to raise the spirits fo his readers.  And who better to include in the hoax but the historically hapless Millard Fillmore.   Mencken’s joy turned to shock when he learned that his words were taken as Gospel. In 1926, he was so uneasy with the fact that his fiction was considered to be real history that he wrote a public confession of his hoax. But, no one listened and the result of his little tale have continued to this day with some sources claiming that Fillmore did indeed install the first bathtub in the White House. The real truth is that copper bathtubs and a shower were installed in the Executive Mansion on the first floor in 1833 or 1834. A permanent bathtub was put in the second floor of the White House in 1853. Mencken would have been better off publishing a true story about the White House bathtub. President William Howard Taft was 6’2″ and weighed a rotund 300 pounds. He had once become stuck in the normal presidential tub. So, he installed a tub that was 41 inches across and 7 feet long. It is said that it could hold four regular size men. The truth was stranger than fiction and this little story may be a good example of how if a lie is told enough times by enough people, then the lie becomes the truth. It also may be a good example of how we should not necessarily believe everything that we read.  And then again, perhaps it is telling that William Howard Taft is best known for being the fattest president, having a huge bathtub, standing up in the middle of the 7th inning to begin the “7th inning stretch” tradition and splitting the ticket with Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose campaign and vaulting Woodrow Wilson to the presidency.  The fact that he was the only person to serve as President and Supreme Court Chief Justice gets lost.   He was also Secretary of War.  Maybe if he’d done something more interesting while holding the important jobs then he wouldn’t be remembered as he is.  But, it could be worse, he could be remembered like Millard Fillmore who is but a footnote.  Besides, its more fun this way.

Join or Die
May 9, 2008


What you see is the SPC severe risk for Friday and Saturday.  Friday is the one with the small area of the slight risk to our South.  Pretty unlikely for us to get anything worthwhile.  We’re in the midst of a series of shortwaves wandering across the flow.  So, look for rain and perhaps some t’storms on Friday afternoon or Friday night.  The bulk of Saturday looks pretty good.  Do your yardwork then. My yard looks like a jungle with all of the rain we’ve had.  Next round of rain and t’storms comes Saturday night into Sunday with the biggest risk for bad stuff in Arkansas.  Those folks have just been getting hammered this spring, haven’t they? Don’t plan on a picnic for mom because the rain may end by the afternoon but it will be windy and getting cooler.  In spite of the big slight risk area, there is nothing that jumps out at me right now for there to be a huge concern at this time, but we will monitor it and I’m sure the risk area will be refined.

On This Date In HistoryYou may recognize this snake from the HBO Miniseries “John Adams”.   This was actually the first political cartoon to appear in American newspapers.  It was constructed by Benjamin Franklin and the pieces of the snake represent each of the colonies or sections of the colonies.  There was a superstition that a snake cut into pieces would re-unite after sunset.  It went along with Franklin’s editorial referring to the “disunited state” of the colonies and how they were better off united. 

Here’s the rub….this cartoon first appeared in the Philadelphia Gazette on this date in 1754.  That is well before the colonists were talking separation from the crown.  Nope, this was done in relation to the French and Indian War and the debate on whether the colonists would join in the fight against the French and their Indian allies.  It showed up again in 1765 when the issue of the Stamp Act arose.  Newspapers reprinted the cartoon though there were different interpretations of what it meant.  Many colonists opposed to the Stamp Act associated the image with eternity, vigilance, and prudence.  Those who were loyal to the King saw the cartoon with more biblical traditions, such as those of guile, deceit, and treachery.  Franklin was opposed to the use of the cartoon at that time but it showed up in publications nearly every week for over a year. 

Printed without permission!!  Had the legal establishment been what it is today, Franklin may have sued. But I guess he was a pretty big hitter himself.